Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (F.A.S.) was formally recognized in 1973 as a major form of mental retardation and is 100% preventable. FAS is characterized by a cluster of congenital birth defects that develop in the infants of women who consume alcoholic beverages during pregnancy. One in every seven hundred and fifty births in the United States shows some characteristics of FAS, which makes it one of the most common causes of mental retardation. Variability in the degree of FAS depends on the amount of alcohol consumed and the embryonic stage, as well as chronic or binge drinking, and the maximum blood alcohol levels maintained.
Gross malformations are usually produced in the first trimester (conception to three months) of pregnancy during the development of the central nervous system. The growth deficiency is manifested in height, weight, and head circumference at birth, and are usually below the third percentile. As the children get older, microcephaly ( a small head ) remains a prominent growth deficiency. Some of the facial features include: a thin upper lip, flat midface, short nose, low nasal bridge, minor ear anomalies, indistinct or missing philtrum which is the vertical grove from the base of the nose to the upper lip and short eye slits. The neurological effects of children diagnosed with FAS include: tremors, delayed development, hyperactivity, attention deficits, memory problems, learning disabilities, intellectual deficits, and seizures.
Children with FAS are not all alike, none will have all the characteristics described in the last paragraph, however, as a group, children with FAS display more developmental and behavioral problems than other children. For example, they are easily distracted because of a short attention span, as well as being easily over stimulated. Parents who recognize the reasons for their children’s problems can plan the most effective treatment and educational therapy. Many of these children benefit considerably from participation in a therapeutic early intervention program, providing intervention begins as early as possible. Some programs are home based and start as early as three months of age, and the therapists highly encourage the parents or main caretaker to become involved in the therapy sessions. The early intervention programs provide, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, frequent psychosocial evaluations, and special education teacher. All of these therapies provide strategies in the areas of learning behaviors, play, social and emotional development, communication skills, and motor skills. These therapy sessions provide a strong foundation for the child’s future.
Parenting any child is a challenge, but when that child has been prenatally exposed to alcohol, the challenges multiply. These children may be immature physically and socially, which has been found to be stressful because of the unusual care giving demands of immature children on their caregivers. Hyperactivity is one of the most common affects of FAS and the children may be in perpetual motion, some of them remain incontinent of bowel and bladder well after their peers have been potty trained, sometimes wearing diapers as late as six years old. Many of them are irritable, compulsive, and make poor decision choices.
The basic guide lines in caring for children with FAS are take your time and do not rush, provide a sense of security when picking them up, speak softly to him or her, touch the child gently, and maintain a regular routine. Like all children, they need to feel loved.
Since FAS was identified, educational and public service efforts have increased public awareness of the dangers associated with drinking while pregnant. The surgeon General’s advisory recommended abstinence from consuming any alcoholic beverage during pregnancy, since there is no evidence to establish an alcohol consumption level free of risks to the fetus. As of November 1989, it is unlawful to manufacture, import, or bottle any alcoholic beverage unless the container in which it is sold bears a warning about the risks of drinking while pregnant.